Birmingham Public Library board chooses new leader, announces public meeting with city councilors

Local News

A Nov. 9, 2021 meeting of the Birmingham Public Library Board (Photo by Lee Hedgepeth)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – Representatives of the Birmingham Public Library will soon head to City Hall.

In a meeting where members chose a new leader and local officials expressed opposition to closing some brach locations, the Birmingham Public Library (BPL) board announced it will publicly have discussions with the city council’s education committee next week.

New leadership

At Tuesday evening’s meeting, board members chose Janine Langston, a 35-year veteran of the Birmingham Public Library, to be its executive director. Langston has served as BPL’s interim executive director since Dec. 2020.

Langston told CBS 42 Tuesday evening that she is humbled by the opportunity to lead BPL.

“I’ve served under six different executive directors. I know there are big shoes to fill, but I’m excited,” she said. “There’s a great team of people at the library. Everything we do is a team effort. I’m excited about the opportunities and where it will lead the library.”

BPL Executive Director Janine Langston (Courtesy BPL)

Asked about the future of the library system, Langston said she’s focused on making sure BPL continues to serve the community.

“My vision is that we continue to service the citizens of the Birmingham area with the resources, the services, the programming that they want, that they desire and they need,” she said.

The start of Langston’s tenure as an executive director comes about a year after the resignation of Floyd Council, who previously held the position. Council’s time at the helm of BPL was contentious. In Oct. 2018, for example, library employees attended a board meeting to express their views that the work environment under Council was “hostile” and “toxic.”

Board member Kim Richardson said that Langston may bring new energy to the role.

“There’s a difference in being able to serve in an interim capacity versus having that permanent status as the executive director,” Richardson said. “I know that she has lots of ideas. She knows the system inside and out.”

Old challenges

At Tuesday’s meeting, board members also listened on while State Rep. John Rogers and Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson commented on the potential closure of library branch locations in their districts, saying that they would do whatever they could to help support the system.

“We are here to ask you What can we do to keep – we can’t keep them all open – I’m not asking for that. I am asking you what can we do to keep the libraries open within our district,” Tyson said.

State Rep. John Rogers also stressed the importance of the city’s library branches, telling the board that the libraries are a crucial resource for local children who need to be able to access a computer for educational purposes.

“I’m asking y’all to try to make sure to keep these libraries open,” Rogers told the board. “And I’m being selfish — in my district.”

The subject of library closings has been at the center of the board’s attention since Mayor Randall Woodfin made comments that suggested closing the doors of some branches may be in the city’s future. After those comments, Library Board President Eunice Rogers singled out four library locations — North Avondale, Titusville, Ensley, and East Ensley — for potential closure. Significant public backlash followed, and Woodfin responded by saying Rogers was “playing games” and that he had not met with her before the announcement.

Tyson and Rogers are not the only local officials to sound off on the potential library closures. At the board’s Nov. 9 meeting, City Councilor Crystal Smitherman said she was opposed to closing libraries, particularly the Titusville branch, which is located in her district. Smitherman also said the city council would send at least one member to each library meeting. No city councilor was present at Tuesday’s meeting.

Board member Kim Richardson acknowledged the absence of a council member Tuesday evening but said she understood schedules are busy, particularly around the holidays. City councilors are always welcome at library board meetings, she said.

“It’s a public meeting,” Richardson said. “The more, the merrier.”

Moving forward

At Tuesday’s meeting, the BPL board also announced a public discussion between library representatives and the city council’s education committee, scheduled for 1 p.m. at City Hall.

“We’ve been asked to do a brief presentation to discuss governance issues, to discuss our ideas for keeping the libraries open, as well as finances,” Board member Richardson said.

Asked by another attendee what “governance issues” could mean, Richardson said it was an “interesting question.”

She said the board was asked to address, for example, the roles and responsibilities of library board members.

“We also have information related just to the history of the libraries if they would like to get into that discussion on Monday,” she said. “I don’t know how much time we’ll have available.”

Ultimately, on the closure of libraries, Richardson said much of the conversation will have to address funding.

“If you would like to keep libraries open, it’s going to take financial resources to manage a system this size,” she said.

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